The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported over the summer that water shut-offs in Detroit were a “violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.” While it is difficult to compare the situation in Detroit to the water shortage plaguing Gaza and the West Bank, all instances highlight the human right to water. The United Nations and the United States must acknowledge Israel’s responsibility to facilitate safe water access in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as take a public stance in support of Palestinian water rights.
As of Aug. 26, the Israel Defense Force’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip has ended. An open-ended ceasefire has been in effect for two weeks, and though media coverage has dwindled, a host of human rights problems in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank remain, including a pressing lack of water access and extremely poor water quality. The UN Relief and Works Agency has reported that, without immediate action, Gaza’s overused aquifer will be irreparably damaged by the year 2020. The population in Gaza continues to rise and the demand for drinking water is expected to increase 60 percent in the next six years. The Israeli blockade on Gaza — including control over border crossings, Gaza’s water and airspace and limitations on the exportation and importation of goods — is inextricably intertwined with the looming water crisis. Without an end to the blockade and equitable access to regional water resources, Gaza will not be able to ensure access to safe drinking water for its residents.
In the West Bank, development in the town of Rawabi has been repeatedly delayed because the city cannot connect to a nearby water main without a permit from Israel, leaving Rawabi without access to water and consequently unpopulated. Israel has justified this delay by criticizing the Palestinian Water Authority for not agreeing to projects in the Joint Water Committee, which was established under the Oslo Accords. Israel must acknowledge that this Palestinian resistance stems from unjust diversion of Palestinian water resources to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, leaving approximately 50,000 Palestinians with the minimum amount of water recommended by the World Health Organization for short-term survival in an emergency situation.
Because of the unique relationship between the United States and Israel (Israel is the recipient of $3.1 billion in annual U.S. foreign aid), the United States has a responsibility to condemn actions such as Israel’s blockade and bombing of Gaza’s only power plant on July 29. The UNRWA report outlining the looming water crisis in Gaza is a good start, but the UN must publicly make the connection between the blockade on Gaza and the water crisis clear, and pressure Israel to provide fair and equal access to water throughout the West Bank.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 9 print edition. Email Carly at [email protected]